No Privilege Without Sacrifice

No Privilege Without Sacrifice

A New York Times opinion piece by Karen Rinaldi is making the social media circuits at the moment. Unlike many others floating through digital channels, the title “Motherhood Isn’t Sacrifice, It’s Selfishness”, is not remotely misleading and is exactly the author’s point. No clickbait here.

You can read the article for yourself, but the essence of it is that by talking about the sacrifices of motherhood we perpetuate a sense of martyrdom that subtly oppresses us and prevents us from embracing our full identity as mothers. Which in theory, in a childless vacuum of fulfilled careers, full nights of sleep, clean floors, and privacy when you poop, that sounds ok I guess.

But, let me provide a reality check from the front lines. Whether it aligns with Ms. Rinaldi’s philosophies or not, sacrifices are happening. Every mother that I know is struggling to come to terms with the sacrifices of motherhood. I personally feel that I’m at my mental, emotional, and physical limit almost every single day. I’ve sacrificed my health, my body, and sometimes my sanity in the interest of providing the best I have to give to my daughter. And it’s a privilege.

Other moms I know are sacrificing careers that they loved and enjoyed because their domestic and financial situations don’t allow them to work and parent right now. New moms are sacrificing their comfort and rest to care for a newborn. Their body that was once solely theirs, is now solace, nutrition, and safety for another. The mental anxiety of figuring out how to take care of yourself in ways that don’t take from your child’s mental, emotional, and physical needs is taxing and sometimes feels impossible. Implementing it can be even more difficult and expensive to boot ($15-$20/hour for some time for yourself, plus whatever cost of drinks/massage/food/activity).  It is a sacrifice, that does not preclude it from also being a privilege.

Ms. Rinaldi claims to want to empower women with her message of privilege not sacrifice, and while I believe her intent, I’m afraid the results will be quite different.

By denying what mothers give of themselves, so deeply and with love, for their children, she is denying us the opportunity to acknowledge and validate our realities. On top of that, she’s opening the door for others to remove or deny their support as a society or community, chocking up our struggles to a martyr complex instead of what it truly is – a seismic giving of ourselves that requires the support of every single family member, friend, neighbor, employer, and government entity that we can get on board.

Mothers in America have a hard enough time getting the support that the rest of the developed countries of the world have as it is, without having our efforts undermined and minimized.

Being a mother is really the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never been so scared to mess something up in all my life. I had not anticipated feeling that way. Every single day I give everything I have to being the best mother I can. I fail, often. I make mistakes and even coping with the mistakes I’ve made is more energy and emotion I need to expend. I sacrifice free time, physical comfort, and career ambitions to be the best mother that I can. And the way that motherhood draws on every part of yourself means that motherhood is not “hard work”…”like every other meaningful aspect of our lives.” It is not the only life experience that requires much of us, but it is certainly another level of sacrifice for the vast majority of us, unlike anything else we have ever encountered.

But these sacrifices are slowly and surprisingly transforming me as a person and even on the days when I ask myself what kind of ridiculous hubris causes a woman to think having a child is a good idea, I still wouldn’t go back and make a different choice if I could.

Under the pressure of motherhood, I have become kinder, more resilient, more understanding of other viewpoints, more dedicated to social justice, and less arrogant. I have sacrificed taut skin, greyless hair, and perky breasts, but in return, I received a confidence and awe in the power and capacity of my body. I have sacrificed my free time and in return, I received a realignment of priorities. I have sacrificed my prior ideas of dignity and identity and in return, I received an ability to laugh at myself and embrace a complex and changing identity.

I can think of few privileges that do not also demand sacrifices of us. The most rewarding and enriching life experiences require something of us in order to be worth anything to us. Motherhood is an incredible sacrifice, and it is an incredible privilege.

 

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Asked & Answered: Why We Still Need Feminism

Asked & Answered: Why We Still Need Feminism

I was proud to march on Saturday with women all over the world.  And in the wake of the march both men and women have been quick to dismiss the march and our reasons for marching.

They say the fights of feminism are over (this is something I said once myself).  They say making signs and blocking traffic is a pointless display.  There are many reasons I marched on Saturday.

The quick list is for LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, rights for people of color, to very publicly tell Kellyanne Conway that we do in fact care about seeing T–mp’s tax returns, to tell Muslim Americans that I think a registry is unconscionable, and to be able to tell my daughter that I didn’t sit at home when the women of this country were filling the streets to show our power, our compassion, and our resolve.

But, let me get further into why we still need feminism.

1. I’ve seen claims in blog and social media posts that American women have more rights than any other country.  This, actually, is not true.  There are many places in the world where it is much better to be a woman.  Out of 41 countries, America is the only one that does not provide paid maternity leave.   Our access to quality affordable childcare has become impossible for many families, meaning that mothers are faced with the decision to pay bills or leave their young infants in sub-par childcare facilities.  And yes, this does sometimes result in the death of infants.

2. Feminism isn’t entirely about legislation.  The truth is that there is still a great deal of inequality in the world.  Not all of it can or should be addressed by legislation, some of it just requires awareness and asking ourselves why. Why women still don’t occupy more political positions. Or why women don’t occupy more executive positions.  Or why women don’t  comprise more of the STEM workforce?  We have to be interested in finding answers to these questions.

For example, I have been made aware that one of the reasons there are fewer women in STEM may be a result of the way that female children are treated differently than male children.  That’s very interesting to me and on an intuitive level makes sense.  As a result, I’ve adjusted the way I parent my 1.5 year old daughter.  She has a toy tool bench and building blocks as well as dolls and domestic toys, and we avoid referring to “girls’ toys” or “boys’ toys.”

I’ve also read that people are less likely to say “no” to young girls than they are to boys, making them less likely to tolerate hearing “no” and pushing past rejection or resistance later in life.  As a result, I’ve adjusted the way I parent.  When she opens her green eyes wide and uses an extra sweet voice to try and get me to say “yes”, when I’ve already said “no” I stand firm.  I don’t want her to rely on emotional manipulation as a tool for advancement and if I reward it, I am setting her up to do that.  She is strong, kind, and smart, she doesn’t need any of that.

3. Sexism in the workplace is far from dead.  How can we say that we are equal if I say the exact same thing (we’re talking verbatim sometimes) as a man in a meeting, yet it’s dismissed coming from me and praised coming from him?

The only explanation is sexism and I know I’m not the only woman to experience this.  So many women have male coworkers and bosses comment about their bodies and dismiss their ideas and ask them if they are on their period.  This can’t help but have very tangible affects on our ability to earn and progress in our professions.

4. With Congress currently in the process of dismantling the ACA there is a good possibility that according to insurance companies being a woman will go back to being a “pre-existing condition.” I am not broken or sick just because I am a woman, and we should all be offended not just by the concept, but by the very real consequences it has to our access to affordable healthcare.

5. White, affluent or middle class men still get a pass for sexual assault in America.  David Becker, Brock Turner, Donald Tr–p, John P. Enochs, Austin James Wilkerson, and the list goes on.  Until they are truly held accountable in the eyes of the law and the public, we do not have equality.

Have we made progress in the past century since women won the right to vote?  Absolutely.  But social progress is slow.  

It took a full century after the abolition of slavery for people of color to get enough support to end segregation, and we’ve yet to see the end of systemic and institutional racism in America.  Our work is not done and we shouldn’t rest just because the easy to spot injustices were handled before our time.

I’m not settling for “good enough.”  I have a daughter.

 

A Love Letter to Moms Who Supplement

A Love Letter to Moms Who Supplement

I swear this isn’t a lactation blog, really, I have other things to talk about.  But here we go again…

Dedicated to my dear friend Ann

Dear Supplementing Mom,

I see you.  I see you posting in Facebook groups desperately looking for some advice to boost your milk supply.  You’ve scoured KellyMom and plumbed the depths of Google and tried everything.  Maybe it was a tongue tie discovered too late, maybe your body had trouble recovering from a traumatic delivery, maybe there’s no damn discernible reason other than that life doesn’t work out the way we want all the time.  But you’ve heard breast is best and you’ve wanted so badly to give your baby best.

But here you are in the store, staring down the formula aisle with a pit in your stomach and a bad taste in your mouth.  You are doing what you need to do to provide your baby with the nutrition he or she needs to grow, and honestly, the breastfeeding/health community has often failed to support you before and after this tough decision.

First, I think you are a total goddess.  You are amazing.  You do the hardest thing every damn day for that little person.  It’s really easy to pat yourself on the back for accomplishing your goal.  You know what’s really hard?  Sacrificing the ideal because in this case the compromise is the heavy lifter who can get the job done.  For those of us who were afforded all the necessary resources and happenstance to succeed as breastfeeders we don’t have to confront what would happen if we couldn’t make our ideal a reality for our child (in this category, trust me it’s coming for us in something else).  For those who decide to quit and formula feed entirely there can be a relief, to no longer feel that pressure to make breastfeeding work.

Those of you that supplement will straddle that conflict and struggle we feel on a daily basis.  You give your baby the best your body will allow under the circumstances, and then where your body quits you do the right thing and get help.  You don’t make it an all or nothing scenario.  To acknowledge your limits, accept help, and continue to do the best for yourself and your baby is incredibly hard and incredibly honorable.

You are amazing.  Your child is lucky to have you as a mom.  And those of us who’ve had success with breastfeeding will one day find that we can’t always have what we want, even for our children who we love above everything else.  If there’s any guilt, hurt, or regret lingering from your decision to supplement would you kindly look it in the eyes and tell it to fuck off?  From me?  You’ve got more important shit to do Mama.

Love,

Modern Amazon

 

Nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost,
No birth, identity, form—no object of the world.
Nor life, nor force, nor any visible thing;
Appearance must not foil, nor shifted sphere confuse thy brain.
Ample are time and space—ample the fields of Nature.
The body, sluggish, aged, cold—the embers left from earlier fires,
The light in the eye grown dim, shall duly flame again;
The sun now low in the west rises for mornings and for noons continual;
To frozen clods ever the spring’s invisible law returns,
With grass and flowers and summer fruits and corn.

-Walt Whitman, Continuities

 

Breastfeeding: System Failures not Mom Failures

Breastfeeding: System Failures not Mom Failures

I talk a lot about breastfeeding, mainly because I’ve spent the past year plus of my life nursing my daughter 6-12 times a day, so I end up thinking about it a lot.  Which means I’ve read a lot of articles about breastfeeding, I’ve watched all the documentaries and I belong to several virtual and real life breastfeeding support groups.  And of course anyone who is paying attention to trending blog posts and media discussions will see that one of the issues at the crux of the “mommy wars” is breastfeeding vs formula feeding.  For the sake of this blog post let’s put aside the moms who decide in advance that breastfeeding isn’t for them and they aren’t interested in trying.

What we have left are moms who exclusively breastfeed, exclusively pump, pump and breastfeed, breastfeed and supplement with formula, and moms who tried to breastfeed but ended up exclusively feeding their babies formula.  Often moms who have exclusively fed their infants breast milk know that bad information early in the breastfeeding relationship can totally derail breastfeeding and negatively affect milk supply.  As a result, when another mom says she is sad that she “just doesn’t make enough” and needs to either supplement or switch to exclusively formula feeding, a bunch of other moms jump in to see if she is drinking enough water, eating enough calories, feeding on demand, power pumping, getting a good latch, seeing a lactation consultant… etc etc until the message that mom starts to hear in her head is “this is your fault, you could be doing something different and succeed”.  And the truth is that according to research, a very small percentage of women biologically and medically cannot produce enough milk to feed their babies.

However, I would posit that a more important truth is that new mothers who want to breastfeed get either very little information, bad information, or tons of conflicting information before and immediately after their babies are born.  We’ll start with my personal experience and then examine some of the feedback I’ve heard from other moms directly.  I was relatively prepared before my daughter was born.  My mother breastfed and promised to be a resource to me.  I took a birthing class that covered breastfeeding.  I watched two breastfeeding documentaries, one while pregnant, the other a few weeks postpartum.  My obstetrician asked me if I intended to breastfeed once, I said yes, she literally never talked to me about it again.

My obstetrician asked me if I intended to breastfeed once, I said yes, she literally never talked to me about it again.

That’s right.  The doctor who is supposed to be trained in all things women’s health and baby birthing never discussed the potential issues I might face and where to find good/vetted information.  She verified that I had good intentions and then left me to sort through the information I encountered from other moms, nurses, Dr. Google, and well-meaning strangers on my own.  Then my daughter was born and she was immediately whisked to the NICU.  So now I had three lactation consultants and four postpartum nurses coming in every four hours or so giving me different instructions on how often I should pump, what flange size I should use, and how to care for my nipples.  Thankfully I knew enough to ignore some of the bad advice I received in those first three days postpartum.  Fast forward a week and my little girl is discharged from the hospital (hurray!) we go home, she gains weight, everyone says, “great job!”.  Meanwhile I feel like my nipples are going to fall off and I’m using every healing treatment I can find to keep that from happening because I’m so determined that I won’t let anything derail us from breastfeeding a full year.  Finally, I have a full on breakdown around four weeks postpartum and I look online for a local lactation consultant to come and help me.

The first woman who comes to my house is clearly nervous and she’s making me nervous and she’s making my daughter nervous.  She goes through her weight checks and watches us nurse and makes a few suggestions, but at the end of the visit says, “Hmm, I’m really not sure what’s wrong.”  I was NOT a happy camper.  Finally, I ask my pediatrician for a lactation consultant recommendation and I get Lisa.  Oh, what a difference Lisa makes.  It doesn’t take her long to identify a tongue and lip tie, and soon we have schedule a procedure to get it corrected, and while I still had issues for another 6 months, it was enough to get us to one year!

Now, let’s take what other moms have going on.  They have daycare providers who are imposing formula guidelines on them because they don’t understand how breastfeeding is different.  They have pediatricians who don’t understand much about breastfeeding and give them terrible advice.  They have postpartum nurses who are trying to formula feed their babies against their wishes.  They have mothers and aunts who never breastfed and don’t support it and work against them at every turn.  They have husbands/partners who see their breasts as sexual and want them to stop because they seem to have this wrong idea in their head that as the partner they “own” these breasts.

Some of the most harmful misinformation is coming from medical professionals.  When a mom receives bad advice from a medical professional she is put in a position of going “rogue” and going against the advice she receives in order to do what she feels may be best for her and her baby.  Now she feels like she’s taking a risk and the truth is that if motherhood does anything to a woman, it makes her risk averse.  Especially when it comes to her brand new baby.

So, what’s the more important truth here?  The more important truth is that moms haven’t failed to breastfeed, we have a system that has failed to support them in their breastfeeding goals.  We have told them that “breast is best” and they should strive to exclusively breastfeed.  But then we haven’t educated our obstetricians, our pediatricians, our nurses, all of our medical professionals about how to help a woman succeed in lactation.  We’ve set a goal for moms and we have failed to give them adequate support.  On one hand we are supposed to be able to trust the medical advice given to us by those who have spent their lives studying how our bodies work and how to care for them.  On the other hand if you talk to breastfeeding moms you’ll know they’ve had to ignore all kinds of advice from medical experts in order to successfully breastfeed.  And then when they don’t meet that goal, with often really good intentions to help, we’ve essentially told them they are to blame.  We’ve set moms up to fail, and then we put this crushing pressure and guilt on them to make up for the major flaws of our maternal health system. 

Let’s eliminate guilt from our conversations about maternal health.  It’s not helping.  It’s always hurting.  And then let’s focus all the good, constructive energy we have to make the maternal health system better and stop nitpicking our friends, coworkers, relatives about their mothering choices.

 

The Stanford Rapist and the Women’s Safety Discussion

The Stanford Rapist and the Women’s Safety Discussion

The nation has turned on Brock Turner and the judge who broke precedent to give him a disgustingly light sentence, as well they should.  The victim bravely made her voice heard and her bravery has already done much to advance the discussion of rape in our country.  I have seen so many male bloggers/columnists talking about how, at an appropriate age, they’ll be reading the victim’s letter to their sons to help them understand the devastation sexual assault has on the victim.  Brock Turner, his father, and his lawyers are all trying to blame the whole situation on alcohol, as though Brock had no control over what happened that night.  His lawyers were also attempting to underhandedly assassinate the victim’s character as though she was somehow responsible for what happened to her.

Most of the thought pieces in response to this even I’ve seen are encouraging parents to address sexual assault and consent with their sons.  This makes so much sense and should absolutely be a part of sex education.  I’ll say it again sexual assault and consent should absolutely be a part of sex education.  Brock Turner’s father’s response to his conviction and sentencing made it painfully clear to everyone how his son could drag a drunk woman behind a dumpster, violate her, get caught, and then only think about the damage done to his own life and future.  It was so obvious that his father could never even imagine the kind of damage sexual assault does to a person.  And so, as we’re all thinking, “How do we prevent this?!” we are right to say, educate our children on the rights and wrongs of consent.  But, the reality is that this protects the next generation of women.  Educating the current generation of young men doesn’t protect the thousands of women who will be sexually assaulted now, this month, this year.

I hear the people who are saying that women shouldn’t have to worry about going to a party and getting raped, shouldn’t have to worry about going to lunch with a coworker and being drugged, shouldn’t have to worry… And I understand what they are saying.  What they are saying is that we shouldn’t accept this as status quo.  We shouldn’t just accept that this is going to happen and not do everything in our power to prevent sexual assault.  But, the truth is, we do have to worry AND we shouldn’t accept the status quo.  Personally, nearly every woman I’ve been close enough to that we share secrets has been sexually violated or had someone attempt to sexually assault them.  I truly believe that the women who go through life and haven’t experienced at least a rape attempt are rare.  We cannot and should not accept this! 

We also have to prepare ourselves and our daughters for what happens when someone, man or woman, attempts to take from us what we do not want to give.  A rape prevention program in Canada recently made the news as one of the first successful tactics in lowering campus sexual assault incidences.  Yes, it does require women to educate themselves and practice how they would handle inappropriate or violent sexual advances.  Yes, this does put some of the ownership for a woman’s safety in her own hands.  Yes, it requires women to recognize and avoid unsafe situations or take precautions.   NO, lack of this education or training should NOT be a reason to try and blame a woman for being a victim of sexual assault.  YES, the fault of a rape still is and always will be the rapist’s! 

We have to approach this both ways or we fail the current and future victims.  We must educate the next generation about consent and we must help women protect themselves now, today.  These strategies are not mutually exclusive and really have the greatest promise of reducing sexual assault numbers when practiced together.

Women’s Health: Ideals vs. Reality

This isn’t news to any of you I’m sure, but people are always trying to tell women what they should and shouldn’t do with their bodies.  Maybe because we house the mechanism for the continuation of our species?  Perhaps this makes people think they have the right to be laying down these absolute edicts about how we look, how we care for our unborn and then born children, how we birth those children, how we attract (or don’t) attract mates.  Somehow it’s all public domain, and of course everyone has strong opinions on whether you are doing it right.

The reality of the matter produces a difficult situation: listening to the contradicting–and often disapproving–messages leave us constantly questioning ourselves.  We don’t need studies from hygiene products’ marketing departments to tell us that this becomes harmful to our self-image very quickly.  When it comes to women’s health there are pervasive ideas about how a woman’s body “should” function.  These expectations produce damaging results when our bodies and images don’t comply with societal norms. Most damaging results of these expectations  is that if our bodies don’t comply with these societal norms, the assumption is that we are somehow responsible.

I think this concept is most obvious in giving birth.  Many women (myself included) want to have a “natural birth”, this means giving birth without any interventions or pain relief.  There are tons of books, articles and websites out there coaching and preparing women to give birth “naturally”.  Many of these sources also blame ill-informed or indifferent doctors and uneducated mothers for the high rate of births that need interventions.  The hope is that if you do all the right kinds of stretching and mental preparation and you have a great birth plan with your doctor/midwife that you will reduce the risk of infant mortality and have a beautiful drug-free  bond with your baby and you will feel like an Earth Goddess.  I strongly believe that the original blueprint for the female body has a really great system for bringing a baby into this world.  But we live in a world full of imperfections.  Our bodies fail us in all kinds of ways from dry skin to anxiety to common colds to asthma (the list obviously goes on and on and on).  Why would we not think it’s realistic to expect imperfections in carrying and delivering another human being?  One of the most stressful physical feats our bodies will ever undergo.  And this seems obvious (to me at least), but the first assumption when something goes sideways with women’s health, is that the woman is responsible.  Needed an intervention when you gave birth?  Well, did you try spinning babies to get your infant in the optimal birthing position?  Did you do this, or that, or this?

Somehow the blame always comes back on us, like we could have prevented this.  Like we should have prevented this.  It’s the same with breastfeeding, pregnancy, weight gain, weight loss, aging, you name it.  If you are a woman and your body cooperated (easy pregnancy, successful breastfeeding, met fitness goals) then it’s easy to think that everyone should be able to attain the ideal, because well you did it, so can everyone else.  The worst is healthcare providers or partners who also witness one woman who was successful and then holds all other women to the same standard.  OR you see that many women aren’t able to attain the ideal and decide we should eliminate an ideal all together in order to level the playing field.  This follows the logic that women have lots of expectations and pressure put on them as it is, why add any additional stress?

I know it’s really unsexy to be balanced and pragmatic, but how about this.  What if we all shoot for the ideal, BUT also educate ourselves and each other about the realistic road blocks we may encounter?  It is good and healthy that we strive to do the best for ourselves and our families, we should be striving for an ideal!  I recently framed my thoughts this way to another mom who was upset at the prospect of having to supplement breastfeeding her child with formula, “Be kind to yourself Mama! You are amazing! Take the pressure off yourself to be perfect, love yourself for wanting to give your baby everything you can, and then continue to love yourself when you reach your limit. We all have to ‘supplement’ in one category or another.”  Humans are complex creatures, and we can house in ourselves the ability to strive for an ideal, fail, reach out for help, but love and respect ourselves for wanting the best.  We don’t have to kill the ideal in order to practice self-love.  What we absolutely need to do is set realistic expectations for ourselves and other women.  We need to assume that others are doing their absolute best until proven otherwise and support them in their goals as best we can.

Today’s women face really interesting challenges regardless of what they want to do.  The social structure that used to house gender norms has been entirely upset.  As a result we have a lot of freedom, but often not much support.  And on top of that, everyone has an opinion on what we should be doing.  It is good that we have healthy science-based discussions with each other on best practices for all realms of women’s health and it’s also good that we respect each others’ preferences and circumstances.  What’s making it harder for us to stand together and bridge rifts is when we project our own experiences onto others and hold them to unattainable ideals AND when we think discarding the ideals all together will make everyone feel better.  Neither of these options will inspire us to reach for the best option and be better to each other.  We can help each other by being honest about the challenges we face with women’s health.  This includes difficulty getting pregnant, miscarriages, terrible pregnancies, traumatic deliveries, difficulty breastfeeding, issues with contraception, and the list goes on.  When a woman you trust and admire puts a face and a heart to one of these issues you are much more likely to be kind to yourself because you remember being kind to her!  We don’t have to avoid tough topics in order to build solidarity and feminine community.

I still believe that the ideal birth takes place without drugs or interventions.  And I can truly never know if I would have prepared better/differently in my pregnancy whether I could have had that ideal.  What I do know is that during pregnancy and delivery my body didn’t do what it was “supposed” to do and it needed help.  I live in a day and age when that help is available (how great is that?) and I took it with both hands.  I could worry endlessly whether I did everything I should have to get the best result possible (and I did for a few weeks after my daughter’s birth).  But at the end of the day I live a life with an imperfect body and imperfect circumstances.  To think I can control all of that is harmful and counterproductive.  Thankfully I had an incredible birth class instructor who prepared us for both for the ideal set of circumstances and the less than ideal set of circumstances.  I plan on trying the whole pregnancy thing at least once more and I’ll shoot for the “ideal” again, but I will also forgive my body it’s imperfections and love myself for wanting the best if it all goes south again.

Love yourself when you succeed, love yourself when you fail, and make space to share your experiences with other women.